Lost in the search
written by Yuko Takeda
Week 4 of “Imagination of Violence – atelier 2: sacrifice and playing the victim” is finished. We are at the half-way of the whole course.
The week was an unusual one because the main instructor Davide was away for 3 days out of 5. For those days, I was put in charge of overseeing the students’ academic research in addition to leading physical training. It was quite an interesting week for me to go through because it brought up some existential questions for the well-being of the students. I’ll briefly expound on this after the highlights of the week.
Davide focused on three things this week: academic research on sacrifice and playing the victim, creating scenes based in a news story about sacrifice, playing the victim and community sacrifice, and personal monologues.
Academic research on sacrifice and playing the victim
During the previous week, the students had done some brainstorming as to their research topics and research methods. This week, Davide consolidated their ideas and proposed a pair research. He gave each pair a different topic and possible research methods or the way to collect data. Each pair was then given some time to refine and clarify the methods and questions they’d like to use for their research. Davide would constantly check in with each pair to help them. This planning stage of the research was important because without a clear question and methodology or strategy to collect data, the part of researching could get confusing and overwhelming easily.
While Davide was away, the students dove into collecting data. One pair watched two American heist films: Ocean’s 11 (2001) and Ocean’s 8 (2018) to observe any differences regarding the expression of violence and animality between the male-dominant and the female-dominant films.
The second pair was interested in BDSM (bondage & discipline, domination & submission, sadism & masochism) and its performativity. They first read a few scholarly articles on BDSM and then interviewed Anders Carlsson, a theatre artist and director who has explored various power relations in his works.
The third pair’s topic was the sacrifice of the actor, or how the actor dedicates his/her life to work. They wanted to interview actors in different work situations. But since the amount of time for interview was limited, they decided to send out a questionnaire to a large group of actors.
After collecting data, the students started to analyze it, discuss it, and try to draw conclusions or hypotheses out of it.
One pair that was researching BDSM was also trying to create an exercise to explore consent and boundaries/limits.
Creating scenes based on a news story
Last week, it was about the Britney Spear’s 2007 breakdown. This week, they tackled the sexual assault scandal of Finnish parliament member Teuvo Hakkarainen. Just like with the Britney’s story, this exercise was not about reenacting the news story but about investigating the layers of violence and sacrifice in daily life and transforming them into various theatrical expressions.
Davide divided the students into three pairs and gave each pair one of the three key moments in the Hakkarainen story to explore. The three moments were:
1. At the Finnish Parliament’s Christmas party, intoxicated Teuvo Hakkarainen sexually assaults another member of Parliament Veera Ruoho.
2. Teuvo Hakkarain is at the court, trying to defend himself before the judge.
3. Hakkarainen’s political party is about to hold a press conference. His party members are discussing what to say to the public.
Each pair consulted Davide as to how to approach the scene.
Then the students presented their scenes one after the other.
After the first round of presentation, Davide gave each pair feedback for further scene development. According to Davide, the act of representing in theatre can be categorized into four types: realistic/imitation, narration, transformation/exaggeration and abstraction. He encouraged the students to not get stuck in one type such as realistic so much and to explore what it’s like to, for example, do transformation. He gave them an hour or so to rework their scenes. For the second round of presentation, each scene evolved in a fascinating way.
The students continued working on their personal monologues this week. The focus was on refining and cleaning up the text by exploring the context or the physical circumstances of the text. Who are you addressing? Where and when are you? What could you be doing while speaking the text? etc.
Because the monologue is about sacrifice and playing the victim, I think that the question of “Who are you talking to?” is especially important. You are sacrificing yourself for someone or trying to manipulate someone by playing the victim… This “someone” is the reason and inspiration for the monologue to happen. Once you understand who this “someone” is, the monologue becomes something like a dialogue where what you say is no longer a mere self-expression but a revelation of a relationship.
This week I continued to lead physical training for the students.
As the supplement to Davide’s curriculum, my physical training encourages the students to develop sensitivity and whole-body listening. I believe that those things are the foundational elements for engaging presence and nuances on the stage. I use Suzuki Method, Hino Method and Viewpoints to address those elements. The exercises are often very simple in form but challenging to be precise and articulate.
As the students examine their own bodies and how they relate to the surroundings, they are also practicing the attitude of a perpetual beginner. Nothing is taken for granted. Curiosity is endless. Everything you see and feel becomes a valuable discovery in a life-long process.
Lastly, about the students’ well-being. This is not directly related to the content of the course, but I still feel that it is relevant to mention it in this blog.
In the middle of the 8-week long course, I sensed the fatigue of the students in the room one morning. So, I asked them how they were doing and waited for their answers. Then one student after the other started to share how tired, stressed, lost, or uninspired he or she felt in school and in life in general. They continued to share their thoughts and feelings for a while, and I inserted my stories every now and then in regard to existential crises in life.
It is one of the most excruciating feelings that you can’t find meaning or purpose in what you do. Feeling utterly lost in the search of meaning, you feel tired and overwhelmed by the things that don’t seem relevant to your struggle. “Why do I have to do all this? Where am I going with this?” This sounds very familiar to me, and I’ve gone through something similar myself more than once.
I don’t have an answer to all those questions or sagely advice. But I can share what I have learned over the years both in school and outside school. It is about developing the ability to find interesting things in any situation and cultivating curiosity towards the other. It helps me to focus more on possibilities than on the things that don’t interest me. You just never know how seemingly different or irrelevant things click together and connect to give you inspirations and deeper understanding of life.
I’ll end this post with one of the inspirational quotes that helped me go through the existential crisis as an artist. It comes from American theatre director Anne Bogart:
You cannot expect other people to create meaning for you. You cannot wait for someone else to define your life. You make meaning by forging it with your hands. It requires sweat and commitment. Working toward the creation of meaning is the point. It is action that forges the meaning and significance of a life. (from And Then, You Act: Making Art in an Unpredictable World)
Onto the fifth week!